Local Plan Update – Surrey Leaders Working Together

Last month, Surrey Leaders made a joint response to Government consultation proposals on “Planning for the right homes in the right places.”

In our letter, we stated, “Most of Surrey is heavily constrained by the Green Belt and other important designations. These designations impose severe limitations on our ability to meet local housing need. In the interests of transparency and consistency, it is essential that constraints on development are taken into account when determining the number of homes for which each authority is expected to plan.”

 And we

 “Stressed the vital importance of having greater clarity and consistent messages from across Government as to the role of local planning authorities in protecting the Green Belt from development pressures.”

The eleven District Leaders met on the afternoon of the Budget Speech. This was against a backdrop of 15 authorities, including Runnymede in Surrey, which are being threatened with “Special Measures” for failing to make progress on developing their Local Plan.

Make no mistake about this. The Department of Communities and Local Government (known as the DCLG), via the Inspectorate, is getting tough on all Local Authorities, particularly those in areas – like ours – which have always had relatively high house prices.

In the latest document, the proposal is to increase the housing delivery target by up to 40% to take into account affordability issues. For Tandridge, this would mean an additional 3,500 new homes (on top of 9,400 homes under the working OAN) to be built over twenty years. Let me make it quite clear Tandridge District Council do not accept this arbitrary increase because it takes no account of our Green Belt constraint.

The Chancellor, in his Budget speech, referred to the fact that “the number of 25-34 year-olds owning their own home has dropped from 59% to just 38% over the last thirteen years.” He went on to say “Put simply, successive governments over decades, have failed to build enough homes to deliver the home-owning dream that this country has always been proud of. Or, indeed, to meet the needs of those who rent. By choosing to build. We send a message to the next generation that getting on the housing ladder is not just a dream of your parents’ past.”

On these points, we agree. However, to expect Councils in areas like ours to deliver so many homes and in such numbers is, quite simply, to ignore the reality of the situation.

As a consequence, the Surrey Leaders Group agreed to send a small delegation, including myself, to meet the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, and to request the attendance of Chris Grayling to gain clarity on this vital issue for Tandridge and Surrey.

Surrey Leaders strongly reject the proposals from the DCLG which would see an unrealistic and totally unacceptable increase in the levels of housing wanted or needed within our own Districts and within Surrey in general. This was pointed out in our letter which stated, [whilst] “we supported the principle of a standardised methodology, the use of the affordability ratio as a modifier is of concern.”

The proposed increase for housing provision in Surrey is, on average, around 10% but for Tandridge it represents a 37% increase. However, there are some other authorities who have, in fact, seen a fall in their level of housing need. Most of these are in the North of England, reflecting the disjointed and disproportionate nature of this policy compared to the efforts the Government has already made to rebalance the economy and deliver the infrastructure in the North that would be able to support these homes.

For Tandridge, independent consultants have determined a working OAN of 470 homes per year. This figure is already a significant challenge for us to meet but has been used as a starting point to gather evidence through our Local Plan process.

We represent an area in the South East that is already straining at the seams to accommodate the original level of proposed housing need, and any increase to our working OAN figure will absolutely not be tolerated by our Council. We will face a scenario in which existing housing delivery targets, let alone the proposed increased targets, are unlikely to be able to be met.

In fact through the evidence gathering process it is already apparent to me that we are likely to be well short of our existing OAN number and the proposed increase will not help us to find additional land that simply doesn’t exist without concreting over the Green Belt, something this Council will never do.

Tandridge has been tirelessly working to identify the land and infrastructure necessary to facilitate delivery of our housing need. As a result, we have stated that we are considering releasing 1% of Green Belt land for new housing, despite some local objection.

I will tell the Secretary of State, when I meet him in due course, that we will not stand idly by when our Local Plan is put forward for examination next year. If the Planning Inspectorate attempts to force us to build more homes to meet the Governments’ arbitrarily-inflated OAN figure, this would ultimately lead to the decimation of our Green Belt.

Finding the right balance between providing housing for all our residents’ future needs, whilst, at the same time, ensuring maximum protection for our Green Belt, is what we all ultimately want. We have been the Party to have successfully defended and protected our Green Belt to date and we will strive to continue to do so.

But ultimately we do need to convince the Government appointed Inspector that we have collected the evidence and that our plan is sound delivering local needs while protecting our Green Belt.